A Longboat Key Republican Club “Meet the Candidates” event gave Key voters a candid look at where the candidates stand and set the tone for the campaign season on the island.
The Jan. 10 luncheon did not offer the four commission candidates a debate-like setting to take stances on Longboat Key issues, like in years past.
Instead, the new format gave candidates a few minutes to introduce themselves and to answer a few questions from the audience.
District 3 commission candidate Ray Rajewski set the tone at the luncheon. He immediately revealed his stance on certain issues.
“The Comprehensive Plan and the codes have served us well and will continue to serve us well,” Rajewski said. “What specifically needs to be changed?”
Rajewski noted that his opponent, Commissioner Terry Gans, made it known in the Longboat Observer last year that he decided to switch races and run against him because of Rajewski’s previous comments about the Urban Land Institute study.
“I was for the study and I participated in the process,” Rajewski said. “But I’m disappointed in the results. There’s very little in their recommendation to help the residents.”
Rajewski noted the ULI study recommended relaxing rental restrictions (a recommendation the commission has already nixed), and recommended a town center with retail.
“We have a retail center,” Rajewski said. “It’s called St. Armands Circle.”
A town center with commercial space such as coffee shops to promote pedestrian activity, Rajewski said, is not needed.
“The Publix plaza still has three vacant storefronts that have sat empty for more than a year,” Rajewski said. “I don’t object to a town center, but I object to more retail.”
Rajewski asked those in attendance to consider what enticed them to buy homes on Longboat Key.
“The beach, the ambiance and the quality of life will attract buyers,” Rajewski said. “Not a retail-oriented town center.”
Rajewski said the ULI study pushed for a 30,000-square-foot town center, but Gans told the crowd the study called for 30,000 square feet of commercial space islandwide, when he took the podium.
Gans said, though, he doesn’t think the town needs 30,000 more square feet of retail.
“I think we have plenty of retail,” Gans said.
Gans made it known he disagrees with Rajewski’s stance on the state of the town’s current codes and Comp Plan.
“We will continue to revise codes, you have to look into the future,” Gans said. “I truly believe our town’s best days are to come. You either get better, or you get worse.”
Gans said the ULI study was worth performing because it gives the town “clarity on the issues and the wisdom to choose the elements most important to move forward with.”
“The study gives us opportunities to position the island for the next 20 years,” Gans said.
Gans also countered a point that Rajewski made about Bird Key and Casey Key maintaining high property values without needing town centers or even commercial space.
“Bird Key and Casey Key aren’t towns, they are subdivisions,” Gans said. “A town center would be nice to have for our town.”
At-large commission candidate Armando Linde was the next to take the stand. He told those in attendance he has three main goals for the town as a commissioner.
“I want to concentrate on providing good governance with a tight, fiscal policy that holds the line on taxes and deals with our pension debt,” Linde said. “We also need to figure out what to do with our beach project and find a way to get more money back from the two counties that have so much access to our taxpayer dollars.”
Linde said he would also work to get a Sarasota Memorial Hospital satellite office on Longboat Key.
“Sarasota Memorial is building them all over,” he said. “Why can’t some of our monies go toward building one here for a population that needs one?”
Linde said he’s open to a community center for the Key but only one that comes with contributions from donors.
“I’m not sure the town can find the money to fund such a facility,” Linde said. “We would also need to collect money from donors to operate such a facility on an annual basis.”
At-large commission candidate Irwin Pastor, who is running against Linde, said this year’s election “is about change.”
Pastor was the only candidate to speak within the five-minute allotment, in part, because the program was running over its 90-minute timeframe.
“I love this community, and I think being active in communities where you live is important,” Pastor said.
When an audience member asked Pastor to comment on his platform in 2013, in which Pastor stated his opposition to the former Longboat Key Club Islandside renovation and expansion project, Pastor said it’s time to put that matter to rest.
“I was never opposed to the Key Club redeveloping,” said Pastor, noting that the ULI study talked about residents moving past former issues and divisiveness to help spur positive change.
Pastor said he believes if an application were filed in the future, Islandside residents will support it “because it fits with the character of the island.”
“It’s a different time, and it’s time to let the past go and enhance Longboat Key moving forward.”
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected]